Guatemalan mudslide death toll reaches 56, hundreds missing

At the search site, workers with dogs labored without rest, halting only when a long whistle sounded, testing if anyone was still alive under the mud and debris.

Santa Catarina Pinula: Rescue workers using shovels and pickaxes recovered more bodies from the rubble of a collapsed hillside on the outskirts of Guatemala City as officials said the death toll had risen to 56 with another 350 people believed missing.

Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Guatemala's volunteer firefighters, told a news conference yesterday that the death toll will likely continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth that buried an estimated 125 homes Thursday night. The previous number of confirmed dead had been 30 with up to 600 people believed missing.

"We still have hope of finding people alive if we keep searching," said emergency services coordinator, Sergio Cabanas.

At the search site, workers with dogs labored without rest, halting only when a long whistle sounded, testing if anyone was still alive under the mud and debris.

"We're from the rescue unit," one worker announced. "If there is someone there, please make some noise or yell."

When no response was heard, two more long whistles sounded, a sign that the workers should continue digging.

Cabanas said he had been contacted by several people who reported receiving messages on their cell phones from family members trapped under the rubble. He said authorities had not seen the reported text messages, but had asked local telephone companies to try to map out the places where the messages were sent from.

Among those mourning the loss of their relatives on Saturday was Nehemias Gonzalez, who seemed to have run out of tears. He lost his 21-year-old wife, Masiel Alexandra, and their 2-year-old child, Angel Efrain.

Gonzalez said he was working at his job at a McDonald's restaurant when the landslide occurred. He said he usually left work at 11 pm, but that day he was given extra chores and didn't leave until 4 a.M. Friday. It wasn't until then that he learned about the disaster.

"The last thing she said when I called her on the telephone in the afternoon was that she loved me," Gonzalez said, looking down at the ground. "I love her, too."

Also at the site was Haroldo Perez, who traveled with four other relatives from San Marcos, about 285 kilometers west of the capital. Armed with shovels, they were searching for his 36-year-old sister Mary Perez, a secretary they had not heard from since the mudslide.

The dead were being brought to an improvised morgue where weeping relatives identified the bodies. The dead included Quani Bonilla, 18, who played on the national squash team.

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